Born in London, he trained as a painter in Antwerp (1870) and in Munich (1871–72), where he shared a studio with the sculptor Edwin Roscoe Mullins. It was the Munich sculptor Wagmüller who persuaded Ford to take up modelling. On his return to London, Ford began to exhibit sculpture at the Royal Academy. His first important commission was for the statue of Rowland Hill (1881) for the City of London. Many more commissions for public work followed, including one for a full-length marble figure of the actor Henry Irving as Hamlet (1883), commissioned by Irving himself, and later presented by him to the Guildhall Art Gallery. Ford’s statue of General Gordon Riding a Camel (bronze, 1890, the original statue, once in Khartoum, is now at the Gordon Boys School in Woking, and another cast is at the Royal Engineers Barracks in Chatham) is a novel variant on the usual equestrian type, remarkable for the finesse of its exotic detail. Ford’s Jubilee statue of Queen Victoria for Manchester, was inaugurated there in the year of the Queen’s death. His memorial to the poet Shelley in University College, Oxford, takes the form of a tomb, with the poet’s body laid, as if washed up by the sea, on an elaborate table-like plinth, guarded by a female muse. Ford also produced a number of bronze statuettes of pubescent nude figures: Folly (1885, Tate Britain, London), The Singer (1889, Tate Britain, London), Peace (1890, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool), Echo (1895, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight). Though he belonged to the circle known as the New Sculptors, Ford’s work is free of philosophical symbolism. He shared with the other members of the group only the desire to escape from the canons of ideal beauty adhered to by earlier Victorian sculptors. Ford was Master of the Art Workers’ Guild in 1895 and elected RA in the same year.
Bibliography: S. Beattie, The New Sculpture, New Haven and London, 1983; T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of Kensington and Chelsea with Westminster South-West, Watford, 2023, pp. 151–55, 488–91; R. McKenzie, Public Sculpture of Glasgow, Liverpool, 2002, pp. 184–86; E. Morris and E. Roberts, Public Sculpture of Cheshire and Merseyside, Liverpool, 2012, pp. 149, 189–90; B. Read and A. Kader, Leighton and his Sculptural Legacy 1875–1930, exh. cat. Joanna Barnes Fine Art, London, 1996; P. Usherwood et al, Public Sculpture of North-East England, Liverpool, 2000, pp. 282–83; P. Ward-Jackson, Public Sculpture of the City of London, Liverpool, 2003, pp. 218–20; D. White and E. Norman, Public Sculpture of Sheffield and South Yorkshire, Liverpool, 2015, pp. 122, 161–62, 188–90.
Philip Ward-Jackson 2003
Edward Onslow Ford, platinum print, published 1892 by Ralph Winwood Robinson, C. Whittingham & Co
(photo: © National Portrait Gallery, London)